Simply riding in a vehicle in India is an exhausting, frustrating, and harrowing experience. There are only rare lanes, almost no traffic lights, and seemingly few rules. It’s hard to describe or even comprehend just how aggravating it is to travel here because there is nothing even remotely similar to compare it to.
On Friday at 7am, we caught a bus toward Agra. There is no bus stop, bus station, or anything that would suggest a bus even comes by. A tuk-tuk driver, instructed by our Host-Dad, just took us to the highway and flagged down a bus going south. A man who essentially serves as a conductor for the bus and sits by the door verified that the bus was going to Agra. We boarded and found just what we had expected. The bus was frigid, filthy, and well-worn with peanuts and litter covering the floor, seats shredded by overuse, and windows barely transparent from scratches and dirt. The ride was to take five hours in good weather, but this morning was foggy, damp, and gloomy.
About an hour into the ride, the bus pulled over to the side of the road. Almost everyone got off the bus and scattered around to pee wherever suited them. After finishing business, people bought snacks and chai and got back onto the bus just to throw the Styrofoam cups and plastic wrappers out the window or on the floor.
To keep warm, I had put on every shirt I had packed and placed my big backpack in my lap. Like most Indian drivers I have ridden with, this bus driver’s actions were unpredictable, not to mention uncomfortable. Incessantly blaring the horn and slamming on the brakes, he was driving just like everyone else.
Three hours into the ride, the brakes slammed on again. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I had come to expect the severe braking, then a honk, then acceleration. Not this time though. At about 15 mph, we hit the cargo truck in front of us. The windshield shattered and the bus jolted to a stop. Everyone was ok, but many of the passengers had been asleep and had not braced for the impact at all. There were some bloody lips and I imagine black eyes and bruised cheekbones the next day. However, we were all fine and luckily only inconvenienced rather than injured.
We got off the bus with our bags and stood in the eerie fog on a stretch of road in the middle of nowhere. It was only then that I realized we were one of a chain of about 10 different accidents. Although lanes are painted on the road no one follows them. As a result, our bus was immobilized right in the middle of the main highway between Delhi and Agra. People, debris, and our bus practically shut down the whole road. A few vehicles were managing to squeeze through. While the locals were practically starting a riot to get their money back from our bus conductor, we quietly jumped on a bus that was moving and headed